European security officials on Monday (26) and Tuesday (27) observed Russian Navy support ships in the vicinity of leaks in Nord Stream pipelines, likely caused by underwater explosions, according to two Western intelligence officials and another source. familiar with the subject.
It’s unclear whether the ships had anything to do with these explosions, these sources and others said — but it’s one of many factors investigators will be looking into.
Russian submarines were also observed not far from these areas last week, according to one of the intelligence officials.
Three US officials said the US still did not have a full explanation for what happened, days after the explosions appeared to have caused three separate and simultaneous leaks in the two pipelines on Monday.
Russian ships routinely operate in the area, according to a Danish military official, who stressed that the ships’ presence does not necessarily indicate that Russia caused the damage.
“We see them every week,” this person said. “Russian activities in the Baltic Sea have increased in recent years. They are often testing our conscience – both at sea and in the air.”
But the sightings cast even more suspicion on Russia, which has attracted more attention from European and US officials as the only actor in the region believed to have the capacity and motivation to deliberately damage the pipelines.
US officials declined to comment on the intelligence on the ships on Wednesday.
Both Denmark and Sweden are investigating, but an on-site inspection has yet to be carried out and details on exactly what caused the blasts remain incomplete. A European official said there was an assessment by the Danish government under way and it could take up to two weeks for an investigation to begin properly because the pressure on the pipes made it difficult to approach the site of the leaks – although another source familiar with the matter said the investigation can start as early as Sunday (2).
The prime ministers of Denmark and Sweden said publicly on Tuesday that the leaks were likely the result of deliberate actions, not accidents, and Sweden’s security service said in a statement on Wednesday that one cannot rule out “that a foreign power is behind it”. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday night also called the leaks “apparent sabotage” in a tweet.
But senior Western officials have so far failed to attribute the attack to Russia or any other nation.
The Kremlin has publicly denied hitting the pipelines. A spokesperson called the claim “predictably stupid and preposterous”.
THE CNN contacted the Russian Defense Ministry to comment on the presence of the ships.
Investigation of leaks
The Danish government is leading the investigation and has established a no-fly zone of around 9 kilometers and a no-fly zone of 1 kilometer, according to European sources familiar with the matter.
Aside from Sullivan, US officials were much more cautious than their European counterparts in drawing conclusions about the leaks.
“I think many of our partners have determined or believe it is sabotage. I’m not at the point where I can tell you one way or another,” a senior military official said Wednesday. “The only thing I know is that we think the water is between 80 and 100 meters [de profundidade] where the pipeline is. Other than that, I don’t know anything else.”
“Unprecedented” leaks in Russian pipelines raise concerns of sabotage.
But a top official and a military official, both from the US, said Russia is still the prime suspect – assuming the European assessment of deliberate sabotage is confirmed – because there are no other plausible suspects with the ability and willingness to carry out the operation.
“It is difficult to imagine any other actor in the region with the capacity and interest to carry out such an operation,” said the Danish military official.
Russia requested a UN Security Council meeting on the damaged pipeline this week – something the top US official said was also suspicious. Normally, the official said, Russia is not organized enough to move so quickly, suggesting the maneuver was pre-planned.
If Russia had deliberately caused the explosions, it would have effectively been sabotaging its own pipelines: Russian state-owned Gazprom is the majority shareholder of Nord Stream 1 and the sole owner of Nord Stream 2.
But officials familiar with the latest information say Moscow would likely consider such a move to be worth the price if it helped drive up the costs of supporting Ukraine to Europe. US and Western intelligence officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that as electricity costs rise and winter approaches, the European public could turn against the Western strategy of isolating Russia economically. . Sabotaging the pipelines could “show what Russia is capable of,” said a US official.
Russia has already taken steps to manipulate energy flows in ways that have caused economic problems but also harmed Europe. Russia cut off gas supplies to Europe via Nord Stream 1 before completely suspending flows in August, blaming Western sanctions for causing technical difficulties. European politicians say it was a pretext to stop supplying gas.
“They have already shown that they are perfectly happy to do this,” said one of the sources. “They weigh their economic pain against Europe’s.”
The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline had not yet entered commercial operations. The plan to use it to supply gas was scrapped by Germany days before Russia sent troops to Ukraine in February.
American, European and Ukrainian officials have been warning for months, however, that critical infrastructure – not just in Ukraine but also in the US and Europe – could be targeted by Russia as part of its war against Ukraine.
The US warned several European allies over the summer, including Germany, that the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines could face threats and even come under attack, according to two people familiar with the intelligence and warnings.
The alerts were based on US intelligence assessments but were vague, the people said — it was not clear from the alerts who could be responsible for any attacks on the pipelines or when they might occur.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) declined to comment.
Der Spiegel was the first to report the intelligence warnings.
(Alex Marquardt and Oren Liebermann of CNN contributed to this report.)
Source: CNN Brasil